Ground beef and cube steak

Other Names: Ground Beef: Boeuf haché (French), carne macinato (Italian), carne molida (Spanish), ground chuck, ground round, ground sirloin, hamburger meat, hamburger patties, minced beef (British), Salisbury steak. Cube Steak: Braising beef, minute steak.

General Description: Ground beef is beef that has been cut into chunks, chilled, and put through a meat grinder. What we call hamburger had its origin in Russia with fourteenth-century nomadic Tartar peoples who liked their beef raw, chopped fine, and seasoned. Ships based in Hamburg, Germany, brought this “Tartar steak” back home, where it eventually began to be cooked as “Hamburger Steak.”

There are many types of ground beef, though many people believe ground chuck has the best flavor. Depending on the type, fat may have been added to the meat during grinding. Hamburger is ground beef to which seasonings and extra beef fat may be added. Salisbury steak is an oblong ground-beef patty flavored with minced onion and seasonings and then fried or broiled. It was named after nineteenth-century English physician Dr. James Salisbury, who recommended that his patients eat plenty of beef.

Cube steak is a tough cut of meat that the butcher tenderizes by pounding. Less expensive cubes may consist of pieces of meat “knitted” together. Cube steak makes for good chili and meat sauces.

Part of Animal: Ground beef may be made from the trimmings of various cuts, though ground chuck, ground round, and ground sirloin are the most popular. Cube steak may come from any tough cut but the heel or shank.

Characteristics: Fresh-cut ground meat is purplish in color, but oxygen reacts with meat pigments to form the bright red color (called beef bloom) on the surface. The interior of the meat may be grayish brown due to lack of oxygen; however, if all the ground meat in the package has turned gray or brown, it should be avoided.

Retail stores sometimes grind the meat while still frozen. Ice crystals in the frozen meat break down the cell walls so that juice is released during cooking; this also happens after ground meat is frozen at home. The amount of shrinkage will depend on fat content, the cooking temperature, and how long it is cooked. The higher the fat content and cooking temperature, the greater the shrinkage.

How to Choose: When at the store, pick up ground beef last. Choose a cold package that is not torn, with the latest sell-by date available. Use your nose: Ground beef should smell fresh and meaty, not sour or unpleasant.

Ground beef (and hamburger) is allowed up to 30 percent fat by the USDA. Ground chuck has a high fat content (20 to 25 percent), so it makes the juiciest hamburgers and meatloaf. Ground round is very lean (up to 15 percent fat). Ground sirloin is lean (15 to 20 percent fat), but it’s more flavorful than ground round. An ideal percentage of fat is about 20 percent; under 15 percent will give you a dry and tasteless burger.

Amount to Buy: Allow 6 to 10 ounces per person.

Storage: When meat is ground, more surfaces are exposed to bacteria, which multiply rapidly in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140°F. Store at or below 40°F, and use within 2 days or freeze.

Preparation: Ground beef is ready to cook from the package.


  1. If desired, combine meat with seasonings and finely diced onion. Mix lightly with your hands until just combined–do not overwork or the burgers will toughen.
  2. Form into the desired shape by lightly packing together the meat and patting into a round or oblong shape of even thickness. Rub lightly with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Pan-sear, grill, or broil hamburgers at high temperature for crustiness and browned flavor for 8 to 10 minutes total, or at lower temperature for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce shrinkage.
  4. To destroy harmful bacteria, cook ground beef to 160°F. Overcooking draws out fat and juices, making the meat dry and tasteless.

Flavor Affinities: American cheese, avocados, barbecue sauce, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, chili sauce, chutney, ketchup, mozzarella, mustard, onions, tomatoes, steak sauce.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com